I could not help but stand in shock as the game went on: tortillas were being thrown onto the field, chants including the words “olé” and “puto” were yelled out to cheer on our team and the image of our “Gaucho” was on t-shirts all around me. This was at UCSB’s first soccer game of the year against Westmont College — a game that would start the year with a bang. I knew that something was amiss with this picture. Having dinner at home with my parents, I told them about what I witnessed at the game and they were utterly surprised by the misconception of cultures.
“A gaucho is commonly defined as a resident of the Pampas, the fertile South American lowlands. Gauchos are found primarily in parts of Argentina, Uruguay, Southern Chile, and Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state of Brazil,” says the UCSB Official Athletics website. Since the definition is correct, why is it that our school mascot is so falsely portrayed?
The last time a South American saw a tortilla could have been in a Mexican soap opera. And having been to both Argentina and Brazil, I can guarantee you that they are not served anywhere. For your tortilla fix, you would need to travel pretty far north. The food that many people relate to Spanish-speaking cultures is not typically the correct one. Argentineans, for example, eat lots of pasta, pizza, empanadas, steaks and a wide variety of European dishes as a result of the large migrations that occurred in their country.
As for the chants, two different issues arise. The first is that “olé” is a cheer with origins in Spain, used for when the bullfighters performed well, according to Time Magazine. Therefore, it is not from Central, North or South America, but rather from the other side of the world. The other word, “puto,” chanted with pride every time the other goalie throws the ball back into play, presents another problem. I couldn’t believe my ears when people around me were yelling the word “puto,” the South American equivalent to “faggot.” Unable to believe what I was hearing, I asked for clarification on the chant. While some people indicated that they were yelling “punto,” as in “point,” many were still yelling the similar derogatory term without knowledge of what the actual word meant.
And lastly, there is the image of the gaucho with a mask that only the Zorro could pull off. The mask is not only more of a fictional representation of the masked character, but it is also a reference to a Mexican “Robin Hood” named Joaquin Murrieta who lived in the mid-1800s. Once again, there is no connection to the Gaucho of South America.
It appears in the end that the UCSB’s Gaucho has some serious identity and culture issues. For some reason, UCSB decided that it could blend in Spanish and Mexican flavor into a strictly South American figure. But this issue goes beyond the mascot itself — it is representative of our university and nation. It appears that our nationally and internationally recognized university has some difficulty distinguishing between the many different Hispanic cultures, which each have their own unique identifying characteristics. This problem moves onto a national scale, with people unable to distinguish between the many Oriental cultures, an Arab from a Muslim, a Jew from a Zionist, a Nicaraguan from a Mexican, and most of all, a South American from a Spanish-speaking North American. Sadly, our educational system teaches us to appreciate and accept diversity, but in general we are not taught to understand it.
Ultimately, our definition of diversity is counterproductive: when we allow all of the cultures to melt together, they become recognized as a homogeneous mass.